Recognizing Afro-Latino perspectives

Back in February, I wrote a post about the African influence in Latin America. The effort earned some attention and since I have wanted to write a follow-up post on a related topic. While my previous contribution dealt with the perspectives of Afro-Latinos in Latin American nations and history, I was recently inspired by a re-post from the blog New Latina. Blog contributor Tracy Lopez wrote an in-depth interview with three Afro-Latinas who give their personal reflections of what it means to be a Latina of African decent. I found the interviews both engaging and revealing. In addition, I believe the reflections from Afro-Latinos(as) are important insights to consider for organizations seeking effective outreach to Hispanic communities.

A few years ago, I attended a focus group by a local Grand Rapids, Michigan entertainment venue seeking insights to better connect with Latino consumers. When the facilitators asked suggestions about popular musical acts, most attendees recommended well-known and traditional artists like Vicente Fernández, Luis Miguel, and Gloria Estefan. One young Latina of African-Dominican heritage spoke up and explained that she actually grew up relating more to her African-American friends and preferred listening to hip-hop and R&B. She recommended acts like Don Omar, Tego Calderón, and Aventura. She explained these artists would appeal to a younger Latino audience. At that time, I realized she represented a distinct generation of Hispanics whose experiences define a multi-ethnic reality.

Returning to the contribution by Lopez mentioned above, I noticed some common threads that tie together the experience of being a Latino of African heritage. One would be a personal reflection that views one’s self within the context Afro-Latino history. Traveling to the Puerto Rican town of Loíza one year, I had the privilege of experiencing the annual carnival that highlights the area’s predominantly African roots. Many residents of Loíza continue to celebrate customs passed down for generations. I once met an individual raised in the U.S. whose family hailed from Loiza. Although he was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage, he spoke even more eloquently of his family’s African roots from Loíza.

Another thread would be an unparalleled sense of pride and honor to have African ancestry. Even more so than the many Latin American nationalities themselves, Latinos of African heritage have defined the distinction of this ancestry with vigor. The PBS mini-series Latin Music USA featured a segment on the influential and popular Afro-Cuban jazz artist of the 1940’s known as Machito. At times Machito would put a “wink” his music that referenced his African roots. A simple shout of a few words in the Cuban Santeria dialect during a song would be a clue for “those in the know” and a signal to let listeners know that African pride was here to stay.

There are also common threads that are indicative of the struggles many Afro-Latino communities have faced for decades. Although the African influence in music and culture is well documented, many of Afro-Latino heritage feel their identities are often not fully recognized or confused within the context of other communities of color. In the aforementioned article by Lopez, the women of Afro-Latina heritage that were interviewed expressed how they feel the mainstream media often ignores their perspectives. For example, it is rare to find Afro-Latinos cast in roles for movies and television, even in those that feature Latino characters. In addition, during their formative years, they also have felt confusion over which ethnic community to belong to: African-American or Latin American. For many Latinos of African heritage, it has taken many years to proudly proclaim ownership of both African and Latino roots.

In marketing and outreach, we would describe these insights as having implications. In other words, what can we grasp from these antidotes that will help us better connect with Latinos of African heritage. In addition to those above, I’m sure there are other insights many of us could share. These are important for marketers to be aware of as they seek to provide brand value for Latinos. Like the example of the young Dominicana I mentioned earlier, there are many perspectives that influence the way Latinos, both of African heritage or otherwise, see themselves and the world around them.

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